More of this, please!

Just in case you were wondering about the venerable and somewhat vulnerable Grant Hill, we can thank Stefan Swiat of www.suns.com for giving us some answers today.

1: Grant Hill is not retiring

Although he'll turn 40 during next fall's training camp, Hill has zero plans to end his career while on the mend.

2: Grant Hill loves the Phoenix Suns training staff

One of the few Suns who hasn't skipped town this offseason, Hill has been a consistent visitor of the the team's training and weight rooms throughout the week.

"I'm just focusing on being healthy," the veteran small forward said. "One of the exciting things of being able to spend most of my time here this summer is that I could work with our training staff and get myself right and ready for next season."

3: Grant Hill is a BAMF

Sure, he could still leave for another team after working with the Suns training staff through June. But this doesn't sound like a guy with one foot out the door. It doesn't sound like a guy pandering to NBA GMs. He has spoken only to a Suns reporter while working out at the facilities, rather than passing rumors through agents and friends.

This is a straight up guy. And I would be more shocked than Lon Babby if Grant didn't end up back in purple and orange next fall, right where he belongs.


See? Marcin CAN dunk! He's also pretty good at that pick-and-roll thingy.


We here on this blog are all fairly familiar with the players on the Suns' roster. We know what their strengths are. We know how they are used on this team.

We know Marcin Gortat is used primarily as the roll man in the pick-and-roll. We know Channing Frye spots up more than he does anything else. We know Robin Lopez likes to post up.

This is all common knowledge to those of us who watched the Suns play this year. However, this common knowledge wasn't enough for me. I wanted to know more. That's where MySynergySports comes in.

For those of you that don't know, Synergy goes through every game and records the result of every possession. They break possessions down into categories such as isolation, pick-and-roll, and post-up, recording how often players are used in those situations and how successful they are.

There's a lot of information, so I'm breaking it down by offense and defense, and only looking at one position at a time. First up is the center position: Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez.

First, allow me to explain in more detail the numbers I looked at. Here's a key for the terms Synergy uses:

Synergy Stat Definitions


PPP – Points Per Play. A "Play" is always ended with a shot attempt, turnover or getting to the free throw line. PPP is the player’s total points, excluding technical free throws, divided by their total plays.

Rank – This is where a player or team’s PPP ranks amongst their league peers. A player must have at least 25 plays for a given category in order to qualify for a league ranking.

%SF - Percent Shooting Foul. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team drew a shooting foul.

%TO – Percent Turnover. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team turns the ball over.

%Score – Percent Score. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team scores at least 1 point, including any resulting free throws.

So these numbers track the raw results. They don't factor in everything, which is where the interpretation begins and where watching the games live helps.

The offensive categories are Isolation, Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler, Post-Up, Pick-and-Roll Roll Man, Spot-Up, Off Screen, Hand-Off, Cut, Offensive Rebound, Transition, All Other Plays and Overall. On defense, the categories are the same minus the Cut, Offensive Rebound, Transition and All Other Plays categories as there aren't really any individual defenders assigned on these plays.

With that out of the way, let's dive into the numbers.

Marcin Gortat

In what should be a surprise to absolutely no one, Marcin Gortat was used as the roll man in the pick-and-roll more than anything else. In fact, he was the roll man on nearly one third of his 962 plays. That is a very high number, but it is understandable when you look at how successful he is.

His numbers are fantastic across the board. Gortat scored an incredible 1.22 PPP as the roll man, ranked 11th out of all the qualifying players. He shot 63.6% and was sent to the free-throw line 9.7% of the time (where he only shot 65%, but still). Factoring everything in, he scored 63% of the time when used as the roll man. That's what I call efficient.

A lot of Gortat's success can be attributed to Steve Nash and his incredible powers of distribution, but to say he's nothing without Steve is doing him a disservice. The fact is that he's a tremendous pick-and-roll finisher. He knows how to find the gaps and has a good touch on his finishes around the basket. He may not be Amar'e Stoudemire with his explosive dunks, but he's still one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the game.

Second on the list with 20.9% of Gortat's plays is cutting. Gortat was decent as a cutter, sporting a 1.13 PPP and a rank of 111. He shot 57.2% and drew fouls 14.4% of the time for a score% of 59.7. This again does require some ability by the cutter, considering he's the one who finds the gaps and puts the ball in the basket, but it also relies heavily on the ones passing him the ball and the others drawing attention and opening up the cutting lanes.

Third on the list is post-ups, which account for 18.6% of his plays. His PPP was .75, ranked 118th. He shot 42.2%, was rarely fouled and turned it over 14% of the time. He scored 38.5% of the time while posting up. Overall, he's decent as a post player, but he still needs a lot of work as we all know. Despite his work with Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, a post-game is not something he can rely on at this point.

Gortat is decent on the offensive glass, but he's not all that effective as a spot-up shooter. His .82 PPP was ranked 233rd, and he only converted his shots 40.7% of the time. He still has some work to do on his jumpshot.

Interesting to note: Gortat only recorded 13 isolation plays all year. He shot 3-10 and got fouled 3 times. He's not exactly a go-to scorer.

Including all plays, Gortat's PPP was 1.05, ranked 18th. He scored 54.4% of the time. These numbers are excellent, but Gortat's pick-and-roll and cutting numbers account for most of this. He is very good at what he does, but we are in trouble if we need him to do more on a consistent basis.

Images_medium

ROBIN SMASH!


Robin Lopez

Robin Lopez was featured much less offensively than Gortat was. In fact, he only recorded 368 total plays. Part of this is due to him being a back-up (duh), but I also believe the fact that none of our guards knew how to feed the post early in the season.

Even with the reserve guards' struggles, Lopez was used primarily as a post player, as 36.7% of his plays came in the post. His PPP was .74, good for a rank of 115. However, we've all seen plenty of bricked hooks, and that shows in his shooting percentage of 37.5%. He also turned the ball over in the post more than he was fouled. Overall, he scored at a 40% clip while in the post. 40% doesn't look all that great, but Robin grades out as a pretty average post player. One thing I've discovered while doing the research for this is that post-ups are not a very efficient source of offense all things being considered.

While posting up isn't all that efficient and Robin is little more than average at it, the pick-and-roll is a tremendous source of high-percentage scoring and Robin is pretty good at it. He was only used as the roll man for 53 plays, but he converted 23-33 field goals and was fouled an insanely high 24.5% of the time. He averaged 1.15 PPP, and was ranked 20th. He did turn it over 9.4% of the time though, so his final %score was 66%. His pick-and-roll numbers each of the last two years have been similar. Perhaps he should be used as the roll man more often?

Robin was very good around the basket in other ways as well. He frequently crashed the offensive glass (19.8% of his plays) and his PPP was 1.12, ranked 63. His numbers as a cutter are even better: 1.39 PPP, Rank 54. He drew fouls at a high rate on both play types.

So Robin Lopez is pretty good when he's close to the basket. What about when he steps away from the basket? Well, he doesn't actually do that too often. I don't have his pick-and-pop numbers (those are included with the pick-and-roll numbers I believe), but he was only used as a spot-up shooter on 21 plays. He made six of his 19 shots. So although we've seen Robin hit that mid-range jumper in the past, he wasn't asked to show it very often nor was he very effective when he did this year.

Overall, Lopez finished the season with a .93 PPP, a rank of 145, and a %score of 49.7%. The problem with Robin was his inconsistency. There were many times Robin looked like a complete stiff and did little right offensively. But there were also times he came out like a man possessed and beasted on opposing big men (these games usually came when he was a sporting some kind of hair or headband I believe). All that evens out to around average, which was where Lopez ended up.

Conclusion

Based on the numbers, the Suns had one of the more formidable center duos in the league this year. Marcin Gortat was one of the most efficient scorers in the entire NBA, and when Robin was on he did some very good things. The eye test backs this up.

However, as good as they are as a rotation, the Twin Towers look advocated by many on this blog is not supported by the numbers. Neither one of these guys will make it into the scouting report as spot-up shooters. Robin Lopez is better the closer you get him to the basket, and Marcin Gortat is at his best when he's rolling to the basket and has room to operate in the paint. There is a possibility these two could play together and be effective, but that doesn't appear to be the case at this point in time in this offense.


Look, somebody actually scored.

The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Boston Celtics in one of the ugliest games of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Philly held the beat up and depleted Celtics to just 75 points but instead of a blow out, they only managed 82 themselves. Yes, both teams play good defense but making open shots would be a nice change as well.

The series goes back to Boston for a Game 7 on Saturday. Even though they barely have enough players to wear the uniform, most people expect the Celtics to win. We'll see.

Thursday's 2012 NBA Playoff schedule:

Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN

The Pacers will also try and force a Game 7 and they have a very good chance of doing just that. The Heat will be without Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman. Haslem got one game and Pittman three for their roles in the Game 5 hard foul fest. Needless to say, the already depleted Miami front court will be even thinner. The question is, can the Pacers stop taking jump shots and feed the ball inside?

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PHOENIX — Jared Dudley’s career could be misleading because of his style. Maybe it’s because while it feels like the Phoenix Suns guard has been in the NBA for a decade, he’s...

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Gentry's a relationship builder, and his relationship with Steve Nash is central to the Suns.

The final installment of our reviews for the 2011-2012 Phoenix Suns features head coach Alvin Gentry. Having just completed his third full season as coach, Gentry has compiled a 145-116 record, leading the Suns to the playoffs once and, of course, winning two series when they got there during their run in 2010.

This past season, the Suns were bottom feeders before the All-Star Break at 14-20, then went on a 19-10 run to put themselves temporarily in the West's eighth spot with less than a week to go before losing their final three games to finish 33-33.

These Suns had all the trappings of an average team: an above average offense (9th in O-Rating) balanced by a below average defense (24th in D-Rating); they beat some playoff teams and lost to a few of the league's worst. Their logo might as well have been a yin-yang symbol instead of a sun.

Let's examine Gentry's role in the Suns mediocre season, after the jump.

All of the league's teams were forced to deal with the quirks of the lockout-condensed season, among them a shortened training camp and preseason, no summer league for young players, back-to-back-to-back situations, and fewer time to rest players between games or work on improving through in-season practices.

Theoretically, a Suns team led by veterans and returning its full starting five from the end of last season would have an advantage early on, wouldn't they? No, unfortunately, they would not. New bench players Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown were slow to adapt to the team, and the Suns started the season slow and sluggish, with jump shooters missing open shots.

It's hard to fault Gentry that Channing Frye showed up unprepared to play, or that Telfair and Brown looked lost early on, or that Suns jump shooters struggled trying to get their legs in NBA basketball shape after the prolonged time off. While there were additional decisions for coaches to make around player usage, especially managing minutes of starters, the shortened training camp and less time for in-season practices allowed coaches fewer opportunities to teach.

When it comes to NBA coaching, though, there aren't too many difference makers out there. A few coaches are clearly superior, a few probably have no business coaching, and most of them sit somewhere in the middle, able to win with the right players but unable to compete with Thoroughbreds if given a team of mules.

The main reasons Gentry was hired as head coach of the Suns were his style and his relationship with team leader Steve Nash. After the Terry Porter experiment bombed and Porter was fired, Gentry moved in as interim head coach, turned the tempo back up, let Nash do his thing, and the Suns were back to close to their old "Seven Seconds of Less" selves. A Western Conference finals berth in 2010 earned Gentry a 3-year contract extension which runs through the end of next season.

There wasn't much in Gentry's past as a head coach to endorse him for another shot at leading a team when then-GM Steve Kerr promoted him from assistant. One stint in Detroit followed by another in LA with the Clippers left him with one playoff appearance, zero playoff series wins and a record of 177-226, but he was the right fit at the right time for Phoenix in 2009.

Gentry's a player's coach, and as such relies on the leadership of his sagacious veteran team captains Nash and Grant Hill. Indeed, when we review the factors in Nash's decision to stick with the Suns through the conclusion of his contract this past season, and upcoming decision whether to re-sign or not, his affection for the "Suns way" is a compliment to Gentry. It's also a major point in Phoenix' favor as the Suns work to re-sign Nash.

Like Nash, Gentry believes in the importance of chemistry and relationships on a team, that players will be more willing to sacrifice for each other if they share respect and admiration for one another. This isn't as common as we might think, and several Suns players mentioned the chemistry of this squad as being among the best they've ever been around.

In a conversation about Gentry's performance this past season, the questions are:

  • Did any players significantly underachieve or overachieve?
  • Was the whole greater than the sum of the parts?

As we've seen in our grades and discussion about individual players, none of them jumped out as playing much better or worse than expected.

However, for a team with a bench unit comprised of castoffs and unprovens, a 38-year old star and a few starters who are seen as bench players promoted over their heads, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts for this Suns team. The credit for that goes to the head coach who created the environment of chemistry and cooperation, who empowers Nash and Hill to take the lead.

Was there one national media "expert" who expected the Suns to seriously challenge for a playoff spot? Even among the fan community, there wasn't much hope for that, yet there were the Suns in contention until the second to last game of the season. That's not overachieving individuals, it's an overachieving team.

That earns Alvin Gentry a B from me. A playoff berth would have been good for an A.

Poll
What grade would you give Alvin Gentry for his coaching job of the 2011-12 Suns?

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